This is an interview conducted with Michael Jonascu over two phonecalls; on December 5 & December 6, 2019. Michael has also provided scans of nearly one hundred photos he took himself took during his time on the production. Most have never been publicly seen before, so huge thanks to him for taking the time to do that. You can listen to the raw audio recording of the interview below, or read the edited & formatted transcription further down.
Michael was a PA & assistant editor on Evil Dead II, meeting the group first on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, but remaining friends long after. He has a wealth of great anecdotes about his time on both productions, and the preceding years.
Michael Jonascu in the Evil Dead II editing room, on location in Wadesboro, North Carolina (1986)
You grew up nearby, but weren't involved with the group until Josh Becker's 1985 feature film Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except?
Yes, I didn't know them from Adam. We went to different schools and I didn't meet them till after I'd finished college; with a telecommunications degree, and a minor in economics. With no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I was looking, at getting a job selling advertising traffic on cable television, or something like that; a profoundly depressing future. The thought of working in the film industry would have been much the same as wanting to be an astronaut, I loved movies, but it never seemed that there was anything that was potentially in my eye line. I was working at a video store and the manager had told me that he had met these guys, and while he couldn't work for them, I might want to go along, as they were looking for people with film & TV experience.
These guys all knew each other socially when they were young, so they came together, they were already rising through their respective careers. When you look at The Pillsbury Dough Boy, or It's Murder!, I'm not even talking about Within The Woods, I'm talking about the stuff they did when they were much younger. I don't know of any better Super-8 movies made by 13 year olds. You look at them, and go "man, these are solid laughs in here", they really hold up. I was watching one day while they shot The Sappy Sap during the Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except shoot. I think Josh had already done Cleveland Smith: Bounty Hunter before I got there. I didn't know the guys all that well when I started watching them, because they showed them to me right off the bat, but I found them very funny. I remember the later bigger productions, but they also did these little Three Stooges style shorts, almost like they were acting out Stooges scenes. I've probably seen all of them, but I probably couldn't remember a more than a handful looking back. I would watch them when the guys weren't around, they were that funny, that enjoyable. Scotty & I had a compilation tape back when we were living together, which I would watch too. I don't have copies of any of them today, unfortunately, no long hidden Super-8's from way back. You can see a lot of talent there, and the dynamic of the group. It's interchange of ideas that led to the quality of those early films, it was a collaborative effort. Sam would be directing, Bruce would be acting, Scott would be writing or directing, and using each other as a sounding board for ideas. It was a breeding ground for a sensibility that in Sam's case, literally took him as high as you can go in Hollywood, but all the guys are really talented.
I had taken a couple of TV production classes, and had done some editing, so from there I met Josh and Scott. I've never really thought about it this way, but there was sort of an unofficial triage of people, who might have of met Scott and Josh, and walked out the door and so never got to meet Sam and Bruce. I actually started out working for Scott and Josh, then was hired by Bruce Campbell to cut sound on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except. While I was working on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, I was sitting in the Ferndale offices alone. This was maybe 8 or 9 o'clock at night, the day had sort of wrapped. I had just seen Bruce, he'd left few minutes earlier, and there was a 3/4" videotape of The Evil Dead, which I had not seen, so I sat and watched it. Even though I had seen Bruce leave just before, I was terrified! A lot of people say it's a funny film, yes, it is a funny film, it's a really funny film, but if you're sitting alone, it's also really scary. That was a real testament to how good that film-making was. It only got better, although Crimewave was sort of an interesting miss. There was all of that terrific visual sensibility to it, and Sam just brought that to Evil Dead II, was well as having the opportunity to go back and essentially remake something he had already done a teriffic job on.
I had interactions with Bruce, and Sam, and Rob, and then I got hired to go down to Wadesboro, for Evil Dead II while it was still in pre-production. This was before they'd even scouted the locations. The set itself had already been built as I recall, but nothing had been shot, and wouldn't be shot for a period of days or weeks. I saw it from the very beginning. They were still working on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, at least Bruce was, that was this day job, so he was back and fourth for a while.
Michael Jonascu in the Evil Dead II editing room, in Ferndale (1986)
Sam had fought tooth and nail with Dino de Laurentiis not to have this shot in Wilmington. Everybody's biggest goal was to keep the studio interference, and especially Dino, from putting their hands on this thing at all. That's one of the reasons that he wanted to be in Wadesboro, because it was very unlikely that Dino was ever going to make the 200 mile trek from Wilmington, into the middle of nowhere to go visit a set. Wadesboro itself is a very small town, maybe a hundred miles east of Charlotte, North Carolina. The population at the time I think was about 8,000 people, it was a really a small town in the way that a small town in the south back in the 80s could be. There were places that we would go, where there were people still living in tar paper homes with dirt floors, it was just astonishing. Really another place in time. Even by the standards of the late 80s, it was still archaic, I mean when you got there, it was like "wow, people still live like this?". Not to say that the town was squalid or anything, it was a nice little town, but there were places off in the woods that were not so terrific.
The Evil Dead II shoot went on for about nine weeks plus pickups & re-shoots. Nobody gets that, we had a tremendous schedule. Sam has always managed to get the schedules which are insanely long by anybody else's standards, that's a credit to him, and to Rob, of really being able to put that together. They made very good use of the time too. They were also good at location scouting. A local guy by the name of Tar Gibson found this inspired place for the cabin set, with a large house we could use as a production office nearby. You probably already know this, but Steven Spielberg's the color purple was shot on the same property. The house was used for the exteriors, and they planted sunflowers around it. Two years later, those sunflowers had re-seeded, and the whole thing was just filled with sunflowers. You'd drive down the hill, and the cabin set was in this little basin area. The logistics of it all were really professional, which was an amazing thing since this is literally these guys third movie. The Kandar set was built in an old gravel quarry. I didn't actually see it until it was being shot, but that was terrific set. The castle facade was only about twenty feet high, but the angle that they shot it from made it really seem huge, even when you were standing right there.
The Evil Dead II location production office, as used in The Color Purple (1986)
I already knew that they had the inspired idea of having a high school gymnasium as the major interior set, and the production rooms all set up in the adjoining junior high school. It was terrific, because each department could have rooms to itself. The school's main office served as our production office, craft services were in the school cafeteria, and a movie projector was set up in the auditorium to view the rushes. As they arrived, each department took the next room along from the last, so everyone was fairly centrally located. When we moved into the place, someone had done this beautiful mural of a bunch of kids of all different colors, with bunnies, frolicking in green fields. it was a very good mural, likely done by teachers rather than the children. The first day that I walked in, every one of those kids, and the bunnies, had their eyes whited out, like they're zombies, they're Deadites!
There was one wing that was really in rough repair. It hadn't cared for, and nobody did anything to it to clean up. I don't know if even all the hall lights worked. It was there, that the production had a weight training room set up for Bruce, which he used though the shoot. I think he must have lost 15 pounds. Most of the movie was shot in sequence, so you can see the Bruce driving Linda to the cabin, looks quite different to the Bruce searching for Linda a few minutes later (which were actually later Michigan re-shoots). He's not the same guy, he's much much skinnier, wiry & muscular. That would have taken a lot of determination on Bruce's part, he physically transformed himself.
The J.R. Faison High School's cafeteria; possessed children wall mural (1986)
The J.R. Faison High School's Evil Dead II production office (1986)
I didn't really notice it looking at Bruce so much, I just noticed it as the dailies kept coming in. At the beginning, and certainly in the original, he is just this soft 20 year old kid, and by the end of Evil Dead II at 27 or 28, he's really lean and buffed up.
Can you tell us a little more about your role in Evil Dead II?
I started out as PA (personal assistant) & assistant editor. I was only doing PA work before the shooting started; going to get things and generally helping out. I also set up the editing room, got everything ready. It was my first movie to do any kind of picture editing on. I was called the assistant editor, but I was essentially an apprentice without a boss, or rather I was my own boss. I wouldn't have called myself the editor even though I was editing alone for a period. I would have called myself a person who did editing for Sam. I didn't really have an creative input, Sam was not depending on my judgment or skill, I was just a pair of hands acting on his direction essentially. Once Kaye Davis turned up, I would still do the rushes, but I would say that John Gannon is what we would have called the first assistant editor, so I would have been a second assistant editor, or more realistically an apprentice. I still didn't know that much, only I could learn using a book, although I think Bruce showed me how to sync dailies the first time, and after that I had to learn how to do it by myself.
Just to explain the editing process for your readers who might not be familiar with it, back in the day, this was an physical process, not a digital one.
The picture was shot as a negative on a roll of film in the camera. This negative was used to strike something called a work-print; a durable print that could be cut and edited together to make the movie. The work-print had individual key numbers on each frame of film. Once the final version was edited together using this work-print, someone would go through meticulously go through, and write down the thousands of key numbers; the foot and frame where every single shot in the movie came from. This list was given to the negative cutter, who at that time, was somebody who essentially worked in a clean room wearing a lab coat & hair net. They would read the key numbers off the negative, and very carefully cutting the frames, so they could be joined together to make a negative master print. From there, they would strike what was called in inter-positive, which would be a master positive of this final edit. In turn from that they would use that to strike a few more inter-negative prints, and it would be those prints you would use to duplicate however many hundreds of copies that you wanted to send out to theaters,
My part in this process, was to go though the dailies; the raw film & sound shot separately each day on set, and sync them up. The sound was recorded on a reel to reel tape recorder called a Nagra, using quarter-inch tape. They were really terrific machines with very sensitive audio. It had something called a crystal sync, which means that it was synchronized to the film camera. If there was any little variation in the speed of the camera, the Nagra would match it. That slight difference could come about if there was any sort of fluctuation in the AC power source they were connected to.
That quarter-inch audio tape was transferred to 35mm sound stock, which is the same size as a 35mm film, but coated with iron oxide. I would load the picture & sound reels together side-by-side through a mechanical device called a synchronizer, where you would set the perforations of the film and the perforations of the sound, and then roll them through from reels to reels, on what were called rewinds. We used a clapper so we could precisely synchronize the picture and the sound. When the clapper loader would say "scene 251 take three, mark", and smack the clapper, I in the editing room could then match up the point on the 35mm film the clapper closes, and the clap on the audio. When I got that sharp one or two frame moment in sync, then the rest of that shot would also be in sync. I would do the same thing for each take of each shot, and then put them together on large reels that we could show to Sam, Rob and Bruce on a movie projector that they had set up in the auditorium. Occasionally, Sam wanted to see how things would cut together, so we would sit together and I would cut the material together very roughly. I don't think there is any cut that I made with my own judgement, that exists in the finished film, unless Sam asked told me the specific frame to cut, and then decided to keep that cut.
Craig Bouyagen was another guy who was working in Michigan on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, he also worked on Darkman, but not Evil Dead II. He was older than me, probably 31 or 32 when I was 24. It was the fall of '84 I started working on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, and the digital era was coming soon, it wasn't here yet, but everybody knew it was coming.
The J.R. Faison High School's Evil Dead II editing room, with Michael (1986)
The J.R. Faison High School's Evil Dead II editing room, with Michael (1986)
Craig was teaching me the basics of sound editing, and the first thing he said was "okay, what I'm doing here, is teaching you to use Stone Age tools, at the beginning of the Bronze Age". He knew this was all going to be going out in a few years when digital change came, totally worthless, and yet I still had to learn it. Everything we knew before, was worthless. You wouldn't have to sync anything any more.
Just to cut two pieces of film together, you had to use something called a splicing block; this big metal 2lb block. It had eight sprocket perforations, four of them on one side of the blade, four of them on the other, so you could locate a pieces of film precisely while cutting them. You'd overlap the two ends of the film you wanted to join, bring down a spring loaded guillotine blade to cut through both pieces of film giving a clean join (the blade would spring back up), and removing the offcuts. Then take a piece of clear splicing tape the right length, from a roll fitted to the left of the splicer, put that over the join, and rub your finger along it to make sure it's stuck. Then you would bring the tamper down again, but this time pull up on the tape so that it would slice itself off on the blade. Then you have joined one piece of film to another. If you're doing it with sound, you would use white tape so you could see the splices. It was barbaric, so primitive. I was maybe the fastest splicer of anybody I have ever met, I was just terrific at it, not that it matters. It doesn't really get that much more work done, but it was just fun, and something I well practiced at. Then when the digital era came in, that was all gone, the splicing blocks, physically holding the film in your hand. Having done so much digital sound editing since, it's just a million times easier and would never go back, but man I miss the feeling of having film in my hands. It was just so concrete, it was a wonderful thing.
We were supposed to send all the dailies back to the studio so they could keep tabs on how the production was progressing, but Sam would only send whatever he thought would look the best, and sometimes actually make edits; so maybe an edit from a close-up of Bruce punching a Deadite, to the reverse angle of the Deadite being punched. Instead of watching all the dailies, the studio would actually be watching these select dailies to help them sell how the scene would work. It was inspired because it really worked at keeping everybody away, and they were only seeing the best of everything. One of the things that amazed me was how good Sam, Rob & Bruce were dealing at with producers; the money people.
The J.R. Faison High School (1986)
On the same subject, I had to deliver some of the select dailies to Dino in Wilmington. Sam was there too, but he came separately. So, I was up in the projection booth, which wasn't very well soundproofed, having a conversation with a projectionist. It might have been something technical, I don't think I was commenting on the material, but apparently I was speaking loud enough that Dino could hear me. All of a sudden I hear from down below over the intercom "hey you, shut up up there!". I got told to shut up by Dino de Laurentiis! Rob used to do an impression of Dino, Rob usually didn't do impressions, but he had this one down, " call me Dino, call me Dino". Dino had a very croaky voice, at least he did when I was yelling at me, but he only said a couple of words.
Did you evolve higher up the ladder, or did you start and end Evil Dead II as a PA & assistant editor?
Not really, I finished as an assistant editor. Don't forget, prior to that, I'd never worked with film, so it gave me a great education. Actually even for me to get an assistant editor credit, as opposed to an apprentice, was terrific. That opened the door for me for all sorts of other places. Based on the experiences other people, unionized people, you had to work as an apprentice editor for years before you could even become an assistant. Evil Dead II was a non-union film, so I wouldn't have been given that role otherwise. Being associated with Evil Dead II was a door opener, because it was just a cult favorite. Not everybody knew it, but there were people who knew it and loved it, and others who knew it by reputation. Also being associated with Sam carries some cachet too, and it only got better after Darkman, and better again after Army Of Darkness.
I can imagine that syncing up the dailies could be very a difficult task, unless all the shooting is rigorously and carefully noted on set?
No, they had a budget and a good crew, the technical & camera crew were very professional. The footage was coming to me okay. The real problem was that they didn't have a good editor, or even a good assistant editor, because I was literally learning from a book. Kaye Davis didn't come in until halfway through shooting. During all that time, it was me synching the dailies, showing them and sending out the select reels to Dino. Even though I was just learning as I went, they seemed happy. They knew what my limitations were, and I would work for them again. I'm not sure exactly what Kaye had edited before, but she was really lovely. She brought in her own assistant by the name of John Gannam, and once they got there, it became a professional editing room with me more of an apprentice role.
Coming from Michigan so I was very sheltered, we are not a worldly people, or at least weren't then. In my own personal circumstances, I grew up the child of immigrants and they didn't get out much. They were always working, so I had a sheltered life until I got into the film industry. I think Kay is an ex-Mormon, raised Utah, or somewhere where Mormonism is practiced. She ended up rebelling against that, and if you're in for a penny or in for pound, she really did. I doubt she was even 30 then, but I don't think I'd met anyone quite like her. She was what an average woman today would be, it's just it was 33 years ago, but she was just perfectly confident in herself and it didn't seem like any of the male Baggage got attached to her. Very comfortable leading and making decisions. I know it was the late 80s, not 1922, but I didn't have that much experience with it. She was sometimes goofy, funny, good sense of humor, and a lot of fun to work for. Her assistant John was again another really good guy. I don't think John stayed all the way through, I think you might have left when the production moved back to Michigan. I don't think Kaye was all that happy about having to come to Michigan to finish the movie either, but that part gets a little hazy for me. Just as an aside, I'd not spent any time in the deep south before this, and it is the deep south. You hear people say that North Carolina is not like Alabama or Mississippi, but when you're from Michigan, North Carolina is the deep South! I've always been an Anglophile, a big British TV fan. I Love the settings, the accents, it's the same with books. When I met the accountant Diane Dankward, I actually thought she was British. She's just from North Carolina, but my untrained ear was trying to fit something that didn't sound like anything I'd heard before, into something I'd had heard before, and it came up British. I'd known her for three or four days, before I asked her when she had come to the states, and she said "what? No, I've lived here all my life". It was just this odd little thing, how different that was having just fallen off the turnip truck myself.
In terms of an editor, Sam mostly wants pair of hands. It takes a long time to build his trust in your judgment. Kaye would do some editing, and she seemed like she was very competent, very good at what she was doing. Sam would come in and say "okay, okay, we'll make a change here, we'll make a change there". I think that Sam has such precise ideas. Obviously you have to do a rough cut for a director, but I think there was just a lot of changes, a lot of 'frame fucking', "I don't want this frame, I want just this next frame". It's 24 frames a second, and ultimately it all matters, but sometimes you can agonize over 1/24 of a second for too long, and I think sometimes Sam did. Then again, he was the boss so he can do whatever he wants. By the time you start getting into movies like Spider-Man, where you've got thousands of effects shots, Sam was not going to be able to be as hands-on that way. Evil Dead II's first DP got fired; a Russian guy by the name of Eugene Schlugeit. He started with some of the night exteriors but Sam apparently didn't care for the look. It looked good to me, I couldn't see what the difference was. Peter Deming was his replacement, he's gone on to do very well.
Just to clarify; if a take didn't get printed, you didn't see it. So you only saw the takes that got printed?
Oh, yes. So even on a modestly budgeted film like Evil Dead II, the 35mm film itself was quite expensive, then you had to pay again to get it developed, so if you had a take which you knew was ruined, you'd save the money and leave it un-printed. We didn't have video assist or anything like that. It was essentially Sam watching, the DP shooting, if they like what they were seeing and thought they got what they wanted, Sam would say "okay, print it".
Bruce Campbell as Ash, filming the vortex sequence in Evil Dead II (1986)
Sometimes, he wouldn't be sure about any of the takes, so he would remember back, and say "okay, give me take, one, give me take five, and give me take seven", and those were the only ones that would get printed. Once we were in the process of cutting the film together, if we didn't like the printed takes that we had to choose from, then we would have to go into the outtakes (the un-printed takes), get those printed up, and start searching through those. It's not like digital, where you can immediately view every second of footage shot. The more you get printed, the more expensive it gets.
Sam had an astonishing memory for what he had committed to on film. He had a terrific memory of all the outtakes, and had the ability to go "no, I think we got that when his hand went to the left about 2 inches more, in one of those takes, so let's go ahead and print those up and see if we can find it in there". That was amazing to me, because I was seeing more footage than he was, and I couldn't remember that stuff. He just had that all upstairs.
Annie's stunt mannequin on the cabin set, for Evil Dead II (1986)
There was a lot of experimentation during production of The Evil Dead, and the stories of the long and drawn out shoot are well known. Had Sam reigned this in by Evil Dead II, as the stakes and budget lifted?
It's funny, you hear all these different stories about The Evil Dead and I have no idea where the truth lies. I do know one thing, whatever the official story is, it's not the truth. The Evil Dead cost way more than everybody said it did, this is what I've got from various people over the years, I've not seen the books. They originally said "oh, we shot the whole thing for $80,000". Yeah, that's not even close. I think it was more than double that, to the point that it's not actually as cheap film as may people say.
A lot of times will hear that they just flew by the seat of their pants, which might have been true of earlier productions but the budget for Evil Dead II was $9 million, it was too big of a budget for that. For The Evil Dead let's say, and I wasn't involved in that, I know how the principles talk about how difficult the shoot was. The thing they had going into that was Within The Woods, the force, the shaky cam, and all this stuff had already been developed, and so an enormous amount of thought went into everything before they even got there. I don't know how much Sam storyboarded, but I know that it was played out a million times in his head, because in my experience of watching him directing, he always knew where the next set-up was, he always knew what he was doing and where he was going to, he'd thought it all through, terrifically.
Bruce Campbell as Ash, in the cabin set for Evil Dead II (1986)
The cabin kitchen during the vortex shoot, for Evil Dead II (1986)
I don't know the entire history of Crimewave, but it was not a successful movie. I'm not sure how much Sam planned that one out, but right from the beginning of Evil Dead II, there was a strong understanding that we've got a budget & schedule to stick to. I think there were bits of experimentation for things that were already pre-planned, but making a little models and then shooting it at different frame-rates, no. For things like the Sam-O-Cam, they just built the thing, and then they figured it out on the day. They knew how they were going to do the blood flood, they had not figured out the specifics like the gauge of the pipes, and so had to later re-shoot the whole thing. They didn't know what to do with the make-up for ghost of Professor Knowby before they started. I actually ended up stunt doubling for Professor Knowby, so they did the make-up test on me; black lips and hollow eyes, and all of that.
What was the ratio of the amount of film shot, to the length of the finished film?
That's a good question, and I don't know for sure. I think it's probably fairly high, maybe 10:1. I was on the set for one of the takes of the interior cabin with the force chasing Bruce around. That was another one of those things that they had to rehearse quite a bit, and everything had to be right. I want to say they only printed two takes, but I'm not sure how many times they shot it. It was a lot of work to get the camera following Bruce, all the marks all had to be hit, doors had to fly open. The intricacy wasn't huge, it's not like setting off pyrotechnics, but it was basically about the kinetics of the motion of that camera chasing Bruce around.
I'm reminded of a really fun story, so when we first started doing the exterior day shooting, there is a point at which Bruce gets thrown upon the Sam-O-Cam and spun around. He hits the tree and he falls head long into the water. I can't remember if it was Bruce or stuntman John Casino who did that stunt. What a great name; John Casino, or is Bruce called him "it's Johnny Casino!". I do remember being on set when they were shooting Bruce in the water, I was still doing the PA work, at the time and had to take Bruce to set. Owing to the circumstances of the shoot, the make-up effects were all created and applied in the school. As well as being in his full Deadite Ash make-up, Bruce had to put the scleral lenses on before we left, and that was a big deal because quite apart from being totally blind, those things are not particularly comfortable. I even had to lead him out to the car. Driving the 20 minutes through the middle of town to the set, I pulled up to a stoplight. This woman pulls up in her car next to me, looks round, and her jaw just drops!
I don't think anybody knows there's a movie being shot here, and all of a sudden there's this gargoyle sitting next to me in this car. The light changed and we moved on, but I think we got some serious glances. I told Bruce about it, he thought it was pretty funny through the rest of the drive over there. I don't know whether it was just lit differently, but the make-up effects for the possessed Ash character, but to me it always looked much more effective in bright light than in the dark. That was how good that make-up was. Bruce was in the passenger seat of my old beat up Volvo, and I'm looking at him 18" away, and the make-up is seamless, I mean it just looked so good.
So, I get him to the set, and he has to dunk his face in this brown goopy water. He gets ready, and Sam says "okay pal, so wait till you hear me call, three", "yeah, okay Sam". So Bruce sticks his face down in the water and Sam just starts waiting. After a couple of seconds they blow Bruce's bubbles, Sam waits, and they blow some more out, and we're still waiting for Sam to give the signal. He was under for maybe 30 seconds till Sam finally queues him, which is a long time in cold water; holding his breath, blind, and in all that make-up. I don't know that Sam needed that much lead in. Generally when you're doing a shot like that, you want to have a little lead on it, but I think part of the gag was just going to be how long Bruce is underwater before his head comes up. There has been a lot said about how much suffering Bruce goes through, and how Sam has this sadistic streak. While Sam might seem to take pleasure in making Bruce do this stuff, I don't think it's out of any kind of meanness, I think it's just, what's the word... the pranks I mentioned earlier, but blown up to a colossal scale because their careers are riding on it. If Sam is able to turn the screw a little bit, again not to be mean, but really to get the shot, he's not averse to making it seem like he is dinking with Bruce, even though they both know they are kind of deadly serious.
There's a shot a little later on when the camera is tight on Bruce's face and spins as it pulls out to a wide shot. They needed a special rig for that; something called a Roundy-Roundy, which I had never heard of. I don't know how common they were, but I know that Sam was always either trying to invent stuff himself, fake stuff himself, or research something that was available that could do what he was looking for. Obviously the shaky cam was a great invention, that was another one of those shots, where just as an observer you go "wow, how did he think of that?". Sam just had that vision, that ability to design a shot, and that was a great learning situation for me.
I didn't see the Sam-O-Cam when it was being shot, but I know it wasn't comfortable for Bruce. It was essentially a torture device created by Vern Hyde. It was a cherry picker with a welded steel metal cross that Bruce was strapped to. The cross would spin very slowly while the truck was passing through the woods. The camera was under cranked, so when played back at normal speed, it would look like Bruce was spinning, right and left and left and right, being flung through the air by the power of the invisible force. That shot was a big deal. I think they shot it eight or nine times at various speeds. The rotation was something like 30-60 seconds per rotation. At first, it didn't have any padding on it. Bruce is not a guy to complain, but at some point he said "you know guys, I don't know if I can keep doing this, has somebody got a pillow?", so I think that they ended up padding up a little bit for him, but it still would have been very uncomfortable.
I might have been the first person to splice that sequence together: the force running though the woods, though the cabin, into Bruce's mouth then to the Sam-O-Cam shot. Because this was my first movie in a production role, I didn't know what Evil Dead II was going to be when it was finished, how this was going to piece together. There were parts I was seeing in the editing room that I didn't understand tonally. I knew I loved individual scenes, but I just didn't know how it was going to cut together. If you look at the Sam-O-Cam shot without any sound, it looks really goofy. In isolation, it's not that compelling a shot, but when you put it right after that long build-up of the force, it really sells.
Bruce Campbell as possessed Ash, in Evil Dead II (1986)
Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert, during Evil Dead II (1986)
Bruce strapped to the Sam-O-Cam, with Rob and Sam, during Evil Dead II (1986)
There is that great winding up sound too; "NRRRRRRRRRRR", reaching a crescendo. So there is acceleration going through on the sound, and in the visual imagery. I remember cutting it together, and I was deft enough at that point to be able to put the sound to it on my head. All of a sudden I was looking at something and thinking "holy shit, this is great", and I realized how it was all going to cut together. There were individual shots in there that were just astonishingly inventive..
The pump and hoses used for the 'Blood Flood' scene, in Evil Dead II (1986)
The doubled 55 gallon drums for the 'Blood Flood' scene, in Evil Dead II (1986)
Cleaning up the set after the 'Blood Flood' scene, in Evil Dead II (1986)
Another scene that was hysterical to watch, was watching Bruce beat the crap out of himself in the cabin kitchen set. A lot of people turned out to see that. That took a while to shoot too, I think they might have shot it in close-up over a couple of days. They had all of those breakaway clay plates, with Bruce just smacking himself on the head again, again, again, again, again, "yeah, okay Bruce, that's pretty good but, can you do it with a little more conviction?", "Yeah, sure Sam, conviction". They under cranked it too, so they were shooting around 22 rather than 24 frames to give it that bit of extra speed. It's an odd thing with that distance of memory, I think it's been 32 years, and you tend to sometimes conflate and exaggerate things when remembering, but I don't thing I'm exaggerating to say they shot Bruce flipping himself over ten times, maybe more.
I also watched the scene where Bruce is unconscious and his hand is dragging him across the floor. When I saw the first take of that, I howled out loud! I had this appreciation for Bruce as a physical actor; yeah, he's was doing all these stunts, but when I saw him unconscious with his hand dragging him across the floor, he really does look unconscious and it looks like his hand is dragging him across the floor. It's a great piece of acting. I don't get the feeling that he's pushing himself along with his toes, which he is, it really feels like he creates the weight of his hand doing the pulling. It's just a brilliant shot.
The 'blood flood' scene was a huge endeavor; that's where Bruce is shooting holes in the walls and all of these different colored streams of bile are coming out splashing him. Vern Hyde, the physical effects guy, put that together. He had this great southern voice, like he smokes 1100 cigarettes a day, Bruce could do a perfect impression of him. He used 55 gallon drums with 3" hose. On the day, they shoot it, and they shoot it, and they shoot it, and we all think "thank God that's over". Meanwhile, all of this stuff is just dripping through the floor and falling on to plastic visqueen sheeting on the cellar floor down below the cabin set. It's not falling back into barrels, there's no funnels or anything, and it all just turned into gunk. All of that had to be gotten rid of, and they didn't really have a very good way to get rid of it, just this gooey sticky crap had to be scraped off the floors. So, we get the dailies back and it's not big enough, the hoses weren't big enough, the effect was not enough, so we had to do the whole thing again. Now we've got to get more 55 gallon drums, with 5" rather than 3" pipe. I think there was some budgeting issues, with Rob saying "I don't know if we can afford to do this", and Sam said "oh pal, we've gotta", and Rob had to try to find the money. I've got a great picture of a fellow named Paul Harris; a PA on the movie, and eventually another assistant editor. It's Paul pouring bile out of his shoe, and looking like Bruce, except more tired because he just had to work on this whole thing for 12 to 14 hours. The last thing we had to do in the evenings was clean up, 400 gallons of gore, so that tends to breed a sense of camaraderie, we got through the blood flood!
Mark Shostrom was the titular head of the special effects on Evil Dead II but Greg Nicotero, Howard Burger and Bob Kurtzman were out there as well. Probably by halfway through the show, I think Sam found that he got along better with the guys who would later form KNB effects, and than Mark Shostrom. I'm not sure if there was any friction, but I don't think Shostrom stayed for the whole movie, although I think he gets the effects credit. I don't know Mark at all, I just met him a few times, he seemed like a nice guy. Greg, Howard & Bob had the same sort of working joe mentality as Sam, Bruce & Rob. They're not Kubricks, starting with their idealized vision of film theory, more just "okay let's get this done". Sam would always come to direct wearing combat boots, didn't need to, but it was a subtle symbol to say "this is the battle, this is what were doing". Let me put it this way, it does not surprise me that KNB, and especially Greg went on to do so well. It's because of that attitude; "okay, I'm going to do whatever it takes to get this done..." the effect or whatever "...and if there is a problem, I will bitch about it later, but let's get the shot, and get this done".
You have around a hundred or so photos taken though your time in the production, do they being back any specific memories?
Yeah, I have some great memories. I've got some photos of Evil Ed, that might have been from test footage; he's lit so much better than he was in the movie, really terrifying I mean. If they could have shot evil Ed this way, he would have been the standout monster in the film. I mean it's not that they shot it badly, it's just that when you see him lit the way, it's amazing. It might have been a test to try and work out lighting for him, I just wish they would have done that and stuck with it.
Richard Domeier as Evil Ed in lighting test shots taken on the KEMscreen, during Evil Dead II (1986)
There was a crew puppy! I don't know exactly how it happened, some local had a cocker spaniel puppy, and it somehow ended up with the crew. The production secretary Ruth Jessup ended up taking care of it, she just fell in love with this puppy. Then the puppy got parvovirus, which is usually fatal. You can treat it but it costs a fortune. I don't remember how they came up with the money, I think people donated and got it whatever courses of treatment that needed to do to save it. We got it back I think three or four weeks later, but there was hardly anything left of it, he had lost all sorts of weight and looked really sickly. It did survive though.
The warp & weft of being there is one of the things that made the shoot very special, and the other thing was really hard set ups, hard things that needed to be done, it was like being in the Marines. Let me give you an example. Tom Sullivan is just the nicest dearest guy in the world, he did all the make-up effects on The Evil Dead, and various animation & props for Evil Dead II. At the beginning you have the swirling vortex where these ghostly little creatures come flying past the camera. I was clicking each frame on the camera while Tom was animating as I recall. He said "okay, so Sam wants these things fly past the screen; in and out in maybe a second". So he shoots the sequence, and we go and watch them, and they're zipping past like comets. Sam is going "oh no, this isn't going to work", "but, you said a second Sam", "yeah, yeah pal I did". I think in that particular instance, Sam was using second to mean a period of time with the understanding that Tom would know what a reasonable time on screen would be. Tom was a little frustrated, but he said "okay, well, let's just do it again". There was nothing like "I'm going to walk off the set", or do anything else we are all just glad to be there.
I have a great photo of Tom with Miriam Cremer standing next one of the Bruce dummies, I think she was the production assistant. They had a few good Bruce dummies that they would use as an unconscious/stunt body double, or if they need to throw it off or into something. They're lightweight enough for effects, with a horrible pained expression on them. Tom is a really dear guy. He was a little older than me at that point, maybe 31 or 32, so a real adult to me at the age of 24. We were all living together; Tom, Roy, myself and a couple of other guys. One of the guys did something that really bummed Tom out, because he is pretty fastidious guy. I won't say what it was, but it's the equivalent of leaving something in the refrigerator that goes so bad that bug start crawling out of it, something really disgusting. Tom was so pissed, that he wrote it out in the Sumerian language script of the Book of the Dead; "okay, well, I am just upset, I'm not going to say anything to the guy, but I am gonna memorialize this thing for all time". I think you were to look at it closely enough, you might be able to follow what that guy did that pissed him off so bad. It was a funny little bit of passive aggressiveness. It's not an Easter egg meant for fans, it's an Easter egg meant for Tom 30 years later. I don't think anybody else knew that except me. It's not something he told any other people as far as I know. I can't remember if I was helping him shoot it, or we were room-mates so we talked a little bit, but he definitely showed me the book. I remember saying "oh, yeah, that sort of looks like what you are saying". Another little story about Tom, he sculpted the flying harpy Deadite at the end of the movie, and it needed to have a really well developed stomach muscles. This was in the pre-Internet days, and Tom didn't have an anatomical book to work from, so needed a physical model. The model for the abs was the prop mistress called Blanche Sindelar, a lovely woman, but Blanche happened to be ripped! She ended up posing for him with her shirt partially up, and Tom sculpted it into his Deadite.
There was a PA/gaffer by the name of Roy Lee Gittens. Roy was this big 6'2", 6'3" muscular southern guy, but really sweet. He had a big southern accent, and a terrific singing voice. So, he got bit a black widow spider, and had to go to the doctors. The next day he was wearing a black t-shirt with a red hourglass figure on it like the Black Widow comic book superhero. That was kind of a running gag. Another thing happened to him actually; Roy had been working on the Kanda set out at the gravel quarry. I think they had called wrap, because the weather was turning bad. As he was walking back towards his Volkswagen beetle car, a bolt of lightning hit the antenna and absolutely fried his radio, melted it to the floor. After he got the electrical system replaced and the car was fixed, it was known as the lightning bug, which you are never going to be able to say in your life about anything else!
Everybody was carrying walkie-talkies, and the way you knew you were being Signaled, was there was a short burst of static and then muffled speech; "KXXXXXXX, mumble mumble". So there was another local guy, Andy Boswell, he was assistant to the art director. He could do spot on impersonations of a bunch of people, like Sylvester Stallone, as well as being an excellent mimic.
Tom Sullivan sculpting the flying harpy Deadite for Evil Dead II (1986)
Tom Sullivan & Mary Ann Creamer, with Bruce's stunt dummy during Evil Dead II (1986)
Andy Boswell & Roy Lee Gittens on the Kandar set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
What Andy could do was walk up behind somebody, on the side where their walkie-talkie was, cup his hand over his mouth, and then say "KXXXXXXX, mumble mumble". Whoever he was behind, would pick up their walkie-talkie and talk to it, it was that believable, It wasn't an easy thing to do, to vocalize something so closely three feet away from somebody, and have them actually think "well, that's my walkie-talkie". He used to do that to just kind of mess with people, it was really funny,
We had a wonderful script supervisor by the name of Françoise Charlap, who was from France. She had this absolutely adorable accent. I don't know how to explain it other than say that it was the sort of accent that 40s American actress playing someone French, would have used. She was very French, but her accent was just perfect, it was like stage French. I'm not certain, but I think she and Sam were dating for a while. Oh, and there was a romance; the accountant Diane Dankwardt, and another young local man, a carpenter, or a grip I think. They ended up falling in love during the production and later and getting married.
Françoise Charlap on the Kandar set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
Did you see the Evil Dead II talent show?
Yes, I don't know whose idea it was, it would not surprise me if it was Sam's, or the boys, but all that kind of stuff was encouraged. Almost everybody in the film industry that I've met, can either play guitar, act, juggle, everybody has got something, so we did it to blow off some steam. There were half a dozen other things, some people were singing, some people were actually very talented, but it was really a great time. I can only remember a few of the acts. One of them was Tom Sullivan, doing a sock puppet version of Don't Be Cruel by Elvis Presley. All he's doing is standing up there with two sock puppets; one on each hand. Actually he might have been behind a curtain, I can't remember. We're all thinking he's going to lip sync, but the song starts, and the puppets are just bouncing their heads in time to the music, but tom acts like he isn't aware of anything going on. In the song they sing "you know I can't be found", and after you know I can't be found, it's "oh, oh", "sitting all alone, oh, oh, oh", and that's all the puppets did, they would lip sync the "oh, oh, oh" backing singer parts to the entire song, and nothing else, and that neither did Tom. It was hysterical.
Tom Sullivan in front of the Kandar castle facia, during Evil Dead II (1986)
Blanche Sindelar (right) in front of the Kandar castle facia, during Evil Dead II (1986)
Wayne Gathins on the Kandar set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
There was also a local carpenter by the name of Wayne Gavins. He was one of the hardest working guys in the production, always three places at once. He was working for the prop master Blanche Sindelar. Now, Blanche had this very loud voice, and she would yell for him "Wayne!", You could hear it wherever you were, and he would have to drop whatever he was doing and go and see Blanche. So in the talent show, Blanche comes up there, just standing in front of everybody. All she does is yells at the top of her lungs " Wayne!", and Wayne is not around, but you start hearing stuff crashing in the background. The door bursts open, Wayne races through the audience, up the stairs, up to Blanche, and goes "yes?". Cut to black, and everybody just started cheering.
How did you relationship with 'the guys' progress as you worked with them?
When you meet these guys, you are entering an entirely different world, they eat, sleep & breath film. The other thing that was really lucky for me was I spoke 'Stooge'. Through all these guys, the Three Stooges are a touchstone. That said, you also you leave your dignity at the door. Not in a mean way because these guys are never mean, but when I first met Scott and Josh, I feel this weird thing on the back of my head, and Scott is hitting me with a rubber hammer, which I recall saying was really cool. I thought "okay, well, part of this job might mean getting hit in the head with rubber hammer, can you handle that?". They used to have a very real thick looking rubber brick, so you might get the rubber brick thrown at you too. They weren't making you the butt of the joke in a mean way, but I think there were definitely a few people who just couldn't really deal with that in the same way. The sound recordist was a guy named John Walters, a very nice guy, he also played Bruce's disembodied hand. He had, it's hard to explain... a sense of personal dignity that didn't take to being hit in the head with a rubber hammer. It's all shtick, it's all jokes, it's all gags, in their work-life, and they play these practical jokes. While on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, Sam called Josh Becker, and pretended to be Haim Saban of Saban films. He absolutely had Josh jumping and scraping; "Saban just called me and wants to see the film!". They let that ride for a day before somebody admitted "no, that was just Sam". They did the same thing with David Goodman once, about a car that he had abandoned. All that sort of attitude combined in the editing room, and for me it was like heaven, like I had gone to the place I didn't know I needed to be. I mean my nature was always geared towards it, but within a little while I was doing pratfalls, walking into light posts and, just doing shtick with everyone else.
You would have Sam using that patois that we all had, we all had that attitude, with the fake shemp, and the "hi pal", and the sound effects. When something was lame, "oh that's so whipped". Whipped was the word for anything that was kind of lame or half-hearted. I don't know where they got the word, it always seemed to me like a whipped dog. You could have a whole conversation with another person, the whole patois where you would just have sentences that I don't know other people could interpret. Sam used to meet so many people on set, and it's not easy to remember every last person's name, so when Sam couldn't remember your name he would call you "pal".
Now, after he would remember your name he would also still sometimes call you "pal", but if you didn't know your name, he would only call you "pal". It might take you a while to realize he had no idea who you were. His default mode was to think you were a friend, I just think that kind of sums him up very well.
The through line with them; Sam, Rob, Bruce, Scott & Josh, nobody ever says anything to be perfectly solely and totally functional, there is always nuance, always character. There is a joy of language, the construct of language and shared experience. Whether it's a Three Stooges reference or a film reference. For example, Josh Becker said "so I give this to my agent, and he says yeah, I'm going to get right on this, I'll be pushing it everywhere, I'll get back to you immediately, and a week later I come home and there is icicles on my answering machine", meaning the guy didn't call. That descriptiveness; the image of icicles on your answering machine, is how these guys thought, cut to crickets, cut to tumbleweeds, all film language. The Ferndale offices in Michigan, were always referred to as "fashionable Ferndale". They never called it Ferndale, it was fashionable Ferndale. That was another thing, there was always a little nickname or some kind of personalizing word that went with everything.
Sam and Scott worked together on the Evil Dead II script, the dynamic between them was pretty interesting too, Scott was just thrilled to be writing Evil Dead II. They used to play off each other just beautifully, a real rhythm. Scott is another terrific writer. The difference between Sam and Scott, and I almost hesitate to say this, it's that Scott always had a very good visual sense and he was great at coming up with gags, Sam had this ability to place himself in the theater seat watching the movie in a way that I don't know that anybody can, or does. Sam wanted to show people things they had not seen before, something that would stop you eating your popcorn, and that ability is something that obviously he is carried through his entire career.
This is just who these guys are, and that was a really good way to inspire devotion. They could get people to work in a way that I've never seen before or since. First of all because they're working even harder themselves, and secondly because you were rooting for them, no other way to say it, you were rooting for them. I don't think that there was anybody on that set who spent more than a few days there, who complained. I mean you've always got whiners on a set, but I don't recall any. The production was an opportunity for a lot of people who were working on it. There is that old Hollywood thing where you're making a low-budget movie, and you take somebody little experience, and you bump them up to the next category. A lot of people were taking a step up and that's another thing that engenders devotion. It was a hard set because of the hours. I think the most I ever worked in my life was 110 hours in a week, and this was on Evil Dead II getting ready for exterior night shoots at the cabin. I worked insane hours, but I never felt I was working any harder than Sam, Bruce, or Rob. They're all really in the game. That's one big truism in the film industry; it's not a job you can half-ass, especially in the creative end. When you're starting out, it's just an all-consuming passion.
Sam, Rob & Bruce in their hearts are showmen. They all knew how to tell a story, and put on show. Rob was working the money, he was the guy that would take a lot of the meetings, priming the pump for Sam to come in and meet with somebody. They all knew that sometimes, without bending the truth or lying, you can shape the truth in such a way that you can get people on your side. I grew up in Southfield in Michigan, maybe 10 miles from Sam in Franklin Hills, or Bloomfield Hills, one of those places. There is a phrase; 'Michigan nice'. It's something we say about ourselves but also that others say about us. We're sort of the Canadians of America, in the sense that we tend to be very polite, in broad strokes, very polite, inoffensive, hard-working decent people, not aggressive like New Yorkers, and Sam, and Rob, and Bruce, radiated it. They're just really decent guys. When you have a creative talent like Sam, people want to get behind him, and he was very good at making everybody feel like they were part of the team. Not with speeches or anything like that, he did it through making you feel like you cared enough about you, to bring you in on the joke.
I'll give you a perfect example of this, and I don't think anybody has ever heard this story. We were working in the Evil Dead II editing room, I think maybe the shooting had been completed by this point, maybe it was on Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except, I can't remember, but it was one of the two. I was in there with another friend, maybe Craig Boyage or another assistant editor Paul Harrison, along with another assistant Dorothy Tapert; Rob's sister. Let me just set this up, this was back in the day when the USSR still existed, and Russians were consistently throwing political enemies into jails, so that's the premise of this. So Sam comes in and he's just so pleased with himself, he says, "oh I've got this great joke to tell you. There is this guy sitting in this Russian prison, and the door opens with a crash and another guy gets thrown in, he sits down and looks at the other guy and says what are you in here for? While I'm in here for voting for Shlonski. What are you on here for? While I'm in here for not voting for Shlonski. And then the door clangs open again on another guy crashes in and they look at him and they say well what are you in here for? And the guy says I'm Shlonski!" Okay, it's a cheap joke, but it's funny. So ten minutes pass, and then Bruce comes in, "guys, guys, I just got this great joke you're going to love it", and he starts telling the same joke, but he's the boss and were not going to interrupt him, "so there's this guy in Czechoslovakian prison, and the door clangs open and then another guy gets thrown in there, any sitting there and he says well, what are you in here for? While I'm in here for voting for Diagolev. What are you in here for? While I'm in here for not voting for Diagolev. And then the door clangs open and they throw another person in, third person and they look at him and say what you in here for? And he says I'm Shlonski!" It's a funny joke, and the reason is that it's funny is that they took the time to do it, they had a set up and a payoff with two different guys who were going to come in and entertain the crew, for no reason other than it's a really funny joke and that they liked having an audience. There is obviously a demarcation between the people above the line, and below, but the attitude was not that way, there was never any of superciliousness or overtly hierarchical kind of attitude. ,, Another example was when Sam & I were going though the cabin basement scenes. In order to correct Bruce's screen direction in one shot, the film was 'flopped', meaning reversed left-to-right like looking in a mirror. That meant Ash's chainsaw switched hands, as well as the blood marks & hair now being mirrored. I that really stood out to me while the editor Kaye Davis was working on it. Later I was talking to Sam while we were just watching the scene, and he asked "what you think?" And I said "well, Sam, the shot is flopped, it's so obvious to me that I don't think it's going to work", and he just said, "well let me put it this way, if they're worried about continuity at this point in the movie, then we've got a lot bigger problems than that shot". It made me a lot more forgiving about continuity errors and other issues in later projects. If the story is going well, people will forgive and forget enormous things.
Bruce Campbell as Ash, in Evil Dead II (1986)
Sam Raimi shooting on the Kandar set, for Evil Dead II (1986)
Josh Becker in costume as a knight on Kandar set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
It was Bruce that first taught me how to cut sound. People properly don't know this about Bruce. but he is a terrific sound editor. This is back in the olden days when you were actually holding onto film and cutting it and splicing it and. He really had a good sense for it. He's also a terrific foley walker, I hired him a couple of times later for foley work. His timing is just phenomenal. Bruce back at that time, I don't know if he still is, was a great serious Christian scientist. I don't know how familiar you are with the religion, it was started by a woman named Mary Baker Eddy, and one of the main tenets is no caffeine, no drugs or anything like that, and not going to see a doctor either. I remember talking to the production, transportation coordinator David Goodman, called 'Goody' as a nickname. Goody had known Sam since they were ten years old at Camp Tamakwa. I asked him "how Christian science is Bruce?" And he says "what can I tell you? The guy won't use a Band-Aid". So, apparently pretty much so.
Josh Becker told me a story. I don't believe Josh was present, and I have no idea if the story is even true, but Josh told it to me, I have no reason to doubt it. Before he became Bruce Christian scientist, I think he was raised in a religion, but he didn't practice. I was told he used to have a bit violent temper, as well as being a bit of a late night guy. We're talking back when he was 17 or 18, by the time I met him, he was true blue and wouldn't drink coffee or use a Band-Aid. So he was driving late one night after a party on a lonely road; miles of nothing, dark at night, and a single lane each way. The guy ahead of Bruce started to dink with him. He was going very slow, but wouldn't let Bruce pass, and speeds up. So Bruce goes back behind him, and the guy starts slowing down, and just starts messing with Bruce. Bruce is getting hotter and hotter, and they come to a stoplight. He gets out of his car, and walks up to the other guy, and taps on the window. They guy rolls down the window and he says "yeah, what do you want?", and as the story goes, Bruce pulls his Speidel metal wristband over his knuckles, like brass knuckles, and punches the guy in the face. He left him there sitting dazed, got back in his car and drove off. I'm sorry Bruce, it's been 40 years or so since it happened. It was shocking to me, because I couldn't see that in Bruce at all. I never saw him lose his temper or curse, even under really rough circumstances. That aside, it's a great gag, something I'd like to use in the movie. I think Josh has already used it, in one of his scripts, just the idea of having that wristwatch which you could pull over your hand, to protect your knuckles, and take out a guy's tooth!
Please note: The above anecdote is not completely accurate. While it has been left as originally transcribed, Bruce provided some clarification by email. Here is his reply.
"Actually that sounds like a compendium of two different incidents. Here are the two - both around the time when I was 18 or 19. The first one, I was driving, trying to pass the guy and he tried to cut me off and it turned into a low-grade road rage very quickly. At the next stoplight, we both got out of our cars. I took my watch off and wrapped it around my hand, because I had heard that it makes you look tough and helps if you punch someone in the face. In either case, a cop showed up and the situation was the defused without further incident. I did not punch the guy.
The second incident was that Michigan State University at a midnight bloopers reel showing of Star Trek bloopers. Everyone was stoned or drunk, but there was one guy who would not shut up over the course of an hour and a half of watching these clips. He kept shouting "suck shit twat!" - over and over again. It was funny for the first five minutes, then it got really annoying. So, I stood up went over to where he was, pointed at him and gestured for him to come out. The audience erupted into applause because clearly they wanted something to be done with this guy too. He stands up with three of his friends. I look back to my three pals, including Scott and they stand up - not really wanting to be drawn into this but here we go. So, it starts and I punch the first guy in the row that stood up - not the actual asshole. After that, a melee broke out, which was pretty much a donnybrook. It seemed like everybody in the entire theater was fighting. The lights came on, the blooper reel stopped. We got kicked out. End of story."
One of the things that about Bruce that struck me, was that he could work like nobody I have ever seen. We needed to prepare a temp sound mix for Evil Dead II, So Bruce, Sam & I were cutting sound, and it was going to be an all-nighter as the dub was the next day, and everything had to be ready. I wouldn't say we were behind, but we were replacing and adding so much material. I've worked on other films that had finished mixes, low budget, but finished mixes that didn't have as many sound effects as this did. I had to give up working after about 26 or 27 hours. Bruce was still cutting when I left, and I remember him sipping from a glass of water, and just getting back to work and going "Bmbmbmbmbmbmb", like a motor, like this little motor sound. I think he had been at it, certainly 36 hours, before we went to the mix, and then he was there at the mix, all without a cup of coffee! That kind of energy, he's got it in reserve. Everybody comments on his terrific sense of physical timing, very daft, and again, really really pleasant. It was never just "hello Michael", it was how you doing Mikey!". I once got a call from him, I forget who picked up the phone, but they said "it's the phone for you Mike", "who is it", "he says, it's your only true friend", and I pick it up and he says "how you doing Mikey!", "Hey Bruce, how are you?".
Bruce 'mugging' for the camera, on the Kandar set during Evil Dead II (1986)
Sam Raimi on the cabin set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
Rob Tapert on the Kandar set, during Evil Dead II (1986)
People love Bruce, he's a cult figure. He's got that smarmy charm, and great physical comedy. He might not be the greatest actor in the world as far as, reaching into the depths and dark parts of the character, but he's actually a lot more subtle than people give him credit for, at least on a technical level. Bruce is a terrific dubber, he can go into an ADR room and just lay out a thousand different types of scream, grunts & groans, all with particular inflections. It's hard to explain, but Bruce has vocalisations of a grunt for Ash that would be different for his character's grunt in Burn Notice. I think his dad was big in community theatre back in Michigan, but I don't know how much formal acting training Bruce himself has had. I think that's one of the reasons that he transcends his work, and has that cult following.
An interesting point about Sam personally, I don't want to get to metaphorical, but I think there was a metaphor here. He is working these insane hours; shooting 12 and 16 hour days, then going back and doing storyboards for the next day, and even doing script re-writes. He's probably sleeping four or five hours a night, and I feel certain he pulls all-nighters sometimes too. I would pick him up from his rented house some days to take him to set. Every day before we went, he would say "okay, I'll be with you in just a second, pal". He'd planted a couple of string beans in the garden, and every morning, he would come out and water them. I'd come by and pick him up a week later, and they had gotten bigger and bigger. By the time we were finished. they were fully grown. I don't know what he did with the beans, maybe he ate them, or maybe he just liked to plant them and watch them grow. Maybe this was something that he wanted to give 30 seconds or a minute to every day, just for the pleasure of it gave him. At the time I saw it as a metaphor for putting something together a little bit every day and watching it grow into something.
Sam had a birthday party after Evil Dead II, back when I was living with Scott & Josh. He was always very nice to me, but I don't think he considered me a friend, more of an employee. It's not like we called and chatted or anything, so I was really surprised when I got an invite to his birthday party out in this tiny, this place he was living in Silverlake. He was going out with Jim Henson's daughter; Lisa, at the time. So as I come in the door, Jim Henson smiles and shakes my hand, saying "hello, how are you?". This was just after Jim Henson had sold the Muppets to Disney for $300 million. I didn't really talk to him other than that one time in the evening, but it was a really nice thing, he didn't have to do that. That sums Sam and the boys up in a very good way; there would be these little unexpected kindnesses. Taking time out of their day, to work out a joke that both of them have to tell the crew. They were doing it from themselves because it's fun, yeah, but they're also doing it for the crew, to build something up.
I have to put Rob in here too. Rob was the backbone of all this, he was the guy who kept everything moving. He also has a very good sense of humor, it's not schticky, it's a little more biting. He is also fiercely observant, and very good at setting people up. I remember Rob once was once chatting with someone regarding an actor that got hurt a little bit; just a scratch on their hand, a little cut, nothing major. They said "oh yeah, he got hurt on that, he was bleeding", and Rob says "oh, I like it when my actors bleed", so Rob always had a bit of a gallows humor. Rob didn't have any problem firing somebody, but Sam just couldn't do it, so Rob was always the hatchet-man. When somebody was not going to work out, you would speak to Rob who would take care of it. All of them were very well organized, but Rob was the guy who made sure it all got done, and would keep Sam to on budget and on time. While he was not someone that hit you in head with a hammer, he was a very good role model for how you keep things moving, and not being a jerk to do it. In all the time I was with them, I don't think I ever saw them screw anybody. It was all really above board. It's hard to be a good person and a producer, it's not impossible, but it's hard. Rob is one of the good guys. Lawrence Bender always seemed like a really nice guy, although he was always looking for the next big chance to get his career going forward, terrific ambition, and you didn't get that feeling with Rob. He would get frustrated and sometimes things wouldn't go his way of course, but he always had this equanimity about him. He was laid back for the most part, and yet everything got done. He never seemed frantic or put upon, although I'm sure he was internally, he just calmly got the job done.
Rob marrying Lucy Lawless was just perfect. It was funny at first; "really, Lucy Lawless?", I forget who it was, maybe Josh or Scott had met her, and they said " no, they got on like a house on fire, she's so down to earth, really nice", apparently they've been happy together for all this time. Rob has that funny voice, I don't know if he still does, "no, and I'll tell you why, I'm going fishing!". He had a great thing for fishing, he couldn't fish when we were doing Evil Dead II, but before that, he would always try to go off to a lake and do some fishing. Once the money started really rolling in, it was deep sea fishing, and putting out his own fishing videos. He's found his passion, and he's got a great girl.
What did you do after Evil Dead II?
After that I started to cut trailers for low-budget company called Transworld, there were a few others, but mostly I drifted into sound, because I wanted the spare time to concentrate on my script writing career. Picture editing is a pretty brutal job. Just to give you an idea, the standard union work-week for a sound editor is 48 hours per week, For a picture editor, I thin the week starts at 50 hours, but you end up working so much longer. The hours are terrible, and you have to travel to locations. It's an entire endeavor, there is little time left for a personal life. I was a picture assistant on Hard Target in 1992, working for Bob Murawski on John Woo's first US film. Sam & Rob produced that. I had to go out to New Orleans for three or four months, and I was on that production for nearly a year. It was awful. Evil Dead II was also a year, and I was fine. It was my first time and I didn't have any relationships or social life to neglect.
The Evil Dead II cast & crew lined up in front of the Kandar Castle facia (1986)
I moved to California and ended up living with Josh & Scott, I actually lived with Scott for six years in this crappy little 600 ft² back-house. It was the most fun six years I've ever had, because these guys always had something interesting to say, they were writing, they were arguing, they were always doing something interesting. Then you had these people parading in and out; Sam & Rob would come over, we had another friend called David Skile, who brought Peter Jackson over before he was Peter Jackson. Quentin Tarantino was over showing us, Yes Madam and Royal Warriors, to the point at which I would say, Quentin can you hold it down, I've got to go to bed, I've got to work in the morning!
Once I learned about editing, I wanted to write, once I learned about writing, I wanted to direct. The thing that made me stop wanting to direct, was the sheer amount of hours of work that you have to put in to direct, and having to make literally thousands of decisions every day. It's a grueling job. Some people can be good at it, and some people thrive on it, because the creative payoff is something you can't get anywhere else. I started scriptwriting. I wrote around fifteen scripts, I even got one optioned by universal which that went into development, and I was represented by CAA for a while. I ended up leaving the film industry completely, and going to Cornell to become an attorney. I love the film industry, and if I'd made it as a successful writer, I could have easily made a good life there. I was working with great people and when everybody around you is blowing up, you feel at least at you in the right group, but I want to have something a little more.
Rob Tapert said something to me while we were finishing up on Evil Dead II, that has been really important in my life, and I never forgot it. Your readers will probably know Bart Pierce; one of the effects guys on The Evil Dead. Well, Bart had left the independent film-making game by that point. I think he was working as the head of video transfer for 20th Century Fox's Detroit studio. It was a very good paying & technical job, with a lot of power and prestige. He came over and while we were working in post, watching some of the footage, and everybody was super friendly. He had this air of wistfulness about him, like this was the one that got away. Not sad or miserable, he's a happy guy, it's just that there was that little bit of wistfulness for what might have been. The second he left, Rob turned to me and said " Ah, poor Bart, he just didn't want it bad enough". I remember at that moment thinking that I would never forget that, because I had a sneaking suspicion even in my own mind back then, that I didn't know if I wanted it bad enough.
I mean I committed to it, I spent fifteen years writing, but I only sold one script. I was not Quentin Tarantino. He probably had at least thirty scripts to my fifteen. The thing you absolutely knew about Sam, Rob, Bruce, Scotty, and maybe a little less so Josh, is that man, did they want it bad enough. They were so ambitious, not creepy ambitious, they were wholesomely ambitious. They had a show they wanted to make, they had a story they want to tell, they had these projects that they wanted to be able to get out there. I think, in its own way, it's why Rob Tapert from a nice suburban town outside of Detroit, is married to Xena. It's why Sam is directing Spider-Man, and married to Lorne Green's daughter. It's also made Bruce a cult favourite, and by being a character actor instead of a lead, he's had a very long career.
I've got two last great stories. So back when we were living together, Scott sold a screenplay to Clint Eastwood, co-written with his friend Boaz Yakin. That was The Rookie which was theatrically released in 1990. Now, Sam is a very nice guy, but he does like to dink with people, so Sam comes over to our crappy little place, Boaz was just leaving, and Scotty introduced them; "Sam, I listen, I want to introduce you to a buddy of mine, Boaz Yakin", Sam says something along the lines of "well, how you doing, great to meet you there,Boisey!", and Boaz who is a very dignified guy, gets kind of indignant. "It's Boaz", "oh okay, I'm sorry pal, okay, so nice to meet you.", and Boaz leaves. Sam turns to the room and says "well, I know where that guy lives!". If I ever need to dink with Boaz, I know exactly where to start. It was not meant to be jerky, even if it sounds like it's a little bit mean, you have to know him in context. It's not like he's jockeying for position, or trying to do assert dominance. It's just another way of saying "hello", in his own way.
Bruce Campbell, Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi (1986)
Michael Jonascu during Evil Dead II (1986)
Another example of the kind of pranks that go on; so Boaz used to be borderline narcoleptic, you could not leave him in a room alone for 20 minutes without him falling asleep. He had come over to go out somewhere with Scott, who was running late, so I said "just have a seat Boaz, and I'll be ready in a couple of minutes". Boaz sits down, and I'm off in the other room. I come back five minutes later, and he's stretched out on the couch dead asleep. As Scott comes out, I mentioned to him, "shush, Boaz is asleep". Scott sticks his finger up, to say silently, "watch this". In Scott's room, he had a high shelf with a collection of 15-20 Don Post monster movie masks, classic ones like Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, and Dracula. Boaz, for a guy who spent so much time working in horror movies, does not like horror movies, or at least he didn't then. He found them gory, inartistic, scary, and did not care for them at all. Scott grabs the Phantom of the Opera mask that is sitting on its Styrofoam head, and walks over to Boaz, who you could walk up to you while he was asleep. He puts the mask horizontally, so that is fate to face, literally almost touching Boaz's nose. Instead of making some loud noise to scare Boaz, Scott says in the gentlest voice imaginable "Boaz, Boaz, time to wake up", Boaz opens his eyes, and he's staring into this Phantom of the Opera's face. You could have probably counted one, two, three, and he let out this high-pitched shriek, that I would have thought was impossible to come from any guy. He was absolutely terrified, for a second, and then he obvious he knew where he was. It was hysterical, we were falling out laughing, but he does not get mad or storm off. That's what it's like when you know these guys, you are going to be on the receiving end of that sort of thing. It's not only a part of the price you pay, it's also part of the opportunities you have. If you have a practical joking kind of nature, those are great guys to spend time with.
Rob Tapert, Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell & Scotty Spiegel (1987)
All the guys; especially Sam, Bruce & Rob, are a series of contradictions. We all have our quirks and peccadilloes, but sometimes people kind of come together in a way that if you wrote them, they might seem like they are obvious fiction. I got that feeling a little about Bruce in some ways, and a little bit about Sam, lots of character traits that fit together in odd ways, and don't normally go together. Sam and Rob are like Richard and Creases from Hercules and Xena at this point, and Bruce is going from strength to strength too. I have to honestly say, Evil Dead II was both my happiest and most difficult movie. You get that maybe once-in-a-lifetime, and I got it. I was really grateful that I got it so early because it never quite repeated itself. I thought man, if it could be half of this good, I could do this for the rest of my life.
While you will have seen some above, here are scans of all the photos Michael himself took during his time on the production, with his titles noted on each image. Most have never been publicly seen before. Huge thanks to him for scanning the nearly one hundred of them!